Rural hospitals have faced mounting financial pressures for years, but the COVID-19 pandemic has made things worse. For these hospitals to continue treating at-risk patients and strengthening their local economies, Congress needs to provide some relief for them now.

Congress should start by improving the terms of loans many rural hospitals relied on when the health crisis first hit. These loans were made possible through a program called the Medicare Accelerated and Advance Payment Programs, which Congress expanded through the {span}Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act{/span}. However, some of the terms tied to MAAPP loans are anything but reasonable.

The timeframe for hospitals to begin repaying loans is too short at just 120 days. Moreover, once hospitals begin repaying their loans, they will no longer receive their Medicare fee-for-service reimbursements. Given that rural hospitals treat a larger share of Medicare patients, this will deal a massive financial blow at the worst possible time.

Additionally, these loans will begin to accrue a ridiculously high-interest rate of nearly 10% if hospitals do not fully repay them within the current time frame — only 12 months. This almost 10% interest rate is much higher than what Congress requires of other industries that received funds through the CARES Act.

For Idaho’s rural hospitals to continue providing critical services for their communities, Sens. Crapo and Risch must work fast to update these overly stringent MAAPP loan terms to provide greater flexibility.

Leo Castagno